This post has been sponsored by Fertility IQ, though the thoughts and content are all my own. I do not write about organizations or products that I don’t believe in, and you have my word I never will. Scout’s honor.
If you haven’t walked the scary, always changing, and sometimes totally impassible road of infertility, it can be hard to understand what your momma-in-waiting friend is going through. Maybe you feel guilty for having 2.5 kids without any complications so you think you don’t know how to connect with your friend who has been trying to conceive for 3 years. It’s possible you have had multiple kiddos since they started their journey, you’re afraid to tell them you’re pregnant right now, or that you’re going to start trying (again).
And none of those scenarios may fit your specific situation, but you can still find it really challenging to talk to someone who is so visibly raw.
Yes, this road is hard for everyone involved, including you. Because deep down you truly care about your friend’s feelings and want them to know they are supported, loved, and prayed or wished over, but it’s challenging to wrap words around what you’re feeling without getting too far in your head and fearing you’ll say something hurtful.
So, what should you say to your friend who feels her life is completely shattered by an infertility diagnosis? Will anything make her feel better or help her?
The answer is complicated, because while suggestions of what to do or how to cope might feel like a productive way to come at the conversation, it can be devastating to her. That’s why, instead, it’s always better to practice a little empathy. No, you might not truly understand what her path has and will be like, but that doesn’t mean you can’t show her you’re trying to.
Before we get to the examples of things you can say, I want you to understand something:
Sometimes infertility makes us make choices we never anticipated having to make. Some couples will do countless rounds of treatment and others will put a limit on their medicinal intake before rerouting. Others never have the money to do the procedures they need.
Each choice is personal, private, and should only involve the couple in question.
Couples will eventually find a “solution” to their infertility struggles by:
- Conceiving a baby (the goal for anyone in infertility treatment)
- Choosing a different route toward parenthood, whether through adoption, fostering, or mentoring
- Ending this journey for another one: learning how to live without the babies they paid for and, maybe, never having children in their homes
No matter which of these three possibilities your friend lands in, I want you to understand something else, too. Just because they got the baby, whether biologically or not, or just because they have moved on to a different life, it doesn’t mean the pain of infertility goes away. The problem still exists and even if they get the ideal outcome with having a baby, they will have to face their infertility again if they ever want to grow their family further. I put solution in quotation marks above because infertility – a lot of the time – doesn’t really have a true fix.
Seeing happy families can be hard. Holidays can gut you. The moments so many take for granted are never unnoticed by infertility patients; they mourn and grieve the life we all kind of expected to have when we’re younger, because everything they thought they would have has been changed by their diagnosis. In fact, it sometimes feels impossible to not think about that.
Reaching a resolution can take years, so your infertile loved ones need your emotional support during this journey. Most people don’t know what to say, so they wind up saying the wrong thing which only makes the journey harder. Knowing what not to say is half of the battle to providing support, and so I know you’re here – brave heart – because you want to do right by your friend who is hurting.
Let’s look at the four phrases or conversation starters I’ve come up with that might help facilitate a loving, open conversation with someone who often feels shut down.
1. You are doing everything you can and you know your situation better than anyone else.
So often, when we don’t understand something, we immediately begin asking questions so we can try to grasp the magnitude of what’s happening. Instead, what if we trusted – even for a second – that our friend who is living and breathing infertility might know the next best step? Instead of questioning them, how do you think it would feel for them to finally hear someone say they trust their judgement?
Because as someone who has lived this I think it would be validating.
2. I’ve always known you to be strong, and I know nothing about this is ordeal, but I want to tell you how much your strength shows through all of this.
Reminding your friend of a quality they have and have had, even before infertility, but you also see inside of their struggle can also feel good. Sometimes it’s hard to remember we are displaying strength, perseverance, or bravery, and being reminded of this can help us keep moving forward.
Don’t be discouraged if your friend immediately shuts down this idea by saying they don’t feel the quality you present. Instead, empathize. Tell them you can imagine that everything they’re going through might make it hard to see, but that you see it and believe in them.
3. I know there’s no simple solution and so many people say the wrong thing. If I ever do anything inappropriate, please tell me so I can apologize and do better next time. I want to fully support you.
This lets your friend know you love them and value their feelings, especially inside of their trauma. These words are powerful for several reasons including that you acknowledge your own disadvantage in the situation, but you also don’t allow that disadvantage to be something that causes a rift. You state you’d like to know so you can be supportive proving that when things get tough you’ll still be around.
4. I’ve been researching IVF/IUI/Clomid/timed intercourse. Holy cow, just reading about it is overwhelming. This is tough, isn’t it?
Putting in a little leg work to understand the processes your friend is going through will make a huge impact on them. Few people put in this amount of work. Sure, there are some who will ask questions and others who want to know, but not many take the initiative to educate themselves. This is important because sometimes educating others about what you’re experiencing while you’re experiencing it can be emotionally and physically draining. By starting the learning process on your own, you’re showing you care a heck of a lot.
Friends, we know it’s hard to initiate these conversations and even harder to come up with the right thing to say, but we also really want you to try and not back off when you take a misstep. We need your support and love and value your friendship because, in the midst of infertility when you feel like the world is falling apart, it’s sure nice to have a friend around who will stand beside you.
Thank you for trying to be that person. We sure appreciate it.
Need somewhere to start learning about all things infertility? My friends over at FertilityIQ are working hard to provide this community the most helpful information to equip you during your infertility journey. They just launched Fertility 101 last week, but also have great information on IVF, IVF risks, IUI, Endometrios
If you have figured out an empathetic way to communicate with your loved struggling with infertility, please leave your examples in the comments. This list is not exhaustive and is, instead, a way to spark conversation.